As I have mentioned before,British roads are never straight. So it is easy to get lost. I have often said to myself where the @#$%& am I now. Luckily for google maps on my phone, otherwise I don’t know where I would be. Also there is no table mountain to use as a reference mark and it is often foggy not to mention the hedges that line the roads up to 2-3metres in height..its often like going through a maze.
Besides this, there are no or few road verges where you can just stop and look at your map, and the signs on the B roads are very small, especially if you are slightly blind like me. They also often just show the name of the next village rather than the largest one you might be heading for..and there are hundreds of little villages with the oddest names. Half of them are so small that they don’t even appear on a map. (Dean, theres a village called Dean). I even discovered that a woman who had lived in one largish village for 20 years did not know the name little village next door..some are literally 10 houses in size. So you never really know where you are.
Many roads are single lane and they say: give way for oncoming vehicles ( in both directions). Who is the oncoming vehicle if you are both oncoming? Luckily, Brits are so polite that both of you give way and sometimes you sit waiting for each other to go. if there are two lanes, usually the other lane is used for parking.
Back to the verges, there is also no place for pedestrians. Buildings are often right on the street. Often there is only one side that pedestrians can walk. Which would be fine, but then you suddenly discover that the pedestrian path is on the other side of the road and so you have to constantly cross backwards and forwards to keep to the pedestrian path. ( Until you find that there is no pedestrian path, which happens frequently and here you have to just walk in the road and pray.)
Luckily I come for SA where we drive on the left hand side of the road as in Britain, and so we tend to look left first. If you come from Europe, your life is at risk, because as you tend to look right then left, you may be fooled into thinking that the road is clear, but you are looking in the wrong direction.
Luckily, there are zebra crossings every now and then, and British drivers are good at stopping here, unlike south Africans(a warning is needed for tourists in SA to not step into the zebra crossing until the cars have actually stopped.) Here, in Britain, people step into the road before the cars have stopped because they are so confident that the cars will stop. As a driver, I have almost hit a few pedestrians.
Some towns close off whole streets for pedestrians, but then its a further bad dream for drivers to find open roads. This is a pedestrian street in Gloucester
DRIVING IN THE UK
There are few traffic lights in the UK but lots and lots of circles. This increases the traffic flow, which would be a total nightmare otherwise, it also slows the traffic from racing, but it confuses even more while following a map, and I often find myself traveling round and round the traffic circles trying to find the correct exit, that often has tiny handwriting. So I am squinting with my long distance glasses
Brits hoot very little, so roads are quiet, however, they are terrible tailgaters. I generally follow the speed limit because I do not want to pay a fine, and the speed limit changes with every village you go into. You cant travel very fast as a result as villages appear every 5 minutes. However, there are often 3 signs giving 3 different limits. I rather go for the lowest. However, I ALWAYS have someone on my tail. When I pull off and let them pass, it isn’t one minute before a new tailgater is there. This is much worse at night, where their lights blind you in the mirror. There are also very few opportunities to pass as the roads go up and down and round corners…so more haste doesn’t make less speed especially with me there trying to locate where I am.
But then just get on the motorways! Here they are 3-4 lanes, still with few verges. Here people race like kyalami, tail gating and cutting you off if you happen to go slowly in the wrong lane. I hate the motorways and prefer the small lanes that also go up and down a lot, especially in the Cotswolds, where I am living.
Roads connect every village to every village like a network of veins, and there are very few dead ends, so if you just keep going in the right direction (I have now bought myself a compass to help), you will end up in the right place as long as you notice of the road is slightly curving, which you sometimes don’t. In which case you get lost again.
Parking is another nightmare. Every parking space that is not double yellow (Absolutely no parking) is either for the disabled or resident only or clamping threatened or Pay and display..30 minutes only. There are signs to parking lots..often miles away from the shops and centres that may allow a pay and display for a longer time. But you pay and pay. Usually at least R20 an hour minimal (1 pound)..more likely R40. Also you have to estimate how long you will be and pay when you park, which means you are constantly clock watching and cant take a leisurely walk through the towns. I am positive this is bad for business. Nailsworth is one of the few towns with free parking. Some cities you cannot drive into and have to park and take the bus. All old ladies wisely have these trolley things for their shopping..younger people just drag their bags because its not cool to have trolley thing.
There are occasional parking garages where you can pay later when you leave, but they are few and they have so many designated parking bays (that are often empty) for disabled and now even families with push chairs. Parents use these, I notice, to carry the shopping while the parent carries the child or lets them walk..a newly marrieds answer to the trolley without seeming like an old granny. There are few shopping centres, and where there are, you cannot push your shopping trolley outside the shop!
Frankly I am surprised that the British economy hasn’t stagnated more than it has. With roads and parking a greater priority..watch the turnover increase and the tills ring!
There are also LOTS of cars in the UK. Everyone is driving somewhere all the time. Coming from Cape Town where I hear the sea rushing at night, I was surprised to hear the sea rushing from 100km away from it, only to discover that it wasn’t the sea, but traffic right through the night, day in and day out. People seem to live far from their work. Just a short survey found that most people at Ruskin mill travel 30 minutes to an hour to get to work.
Buses are not that frequent and able to go to odd places, and are expensive for everyone who is not a pensioner. Trains are even more expensive and just dont go every where. Strangely luxury independent buses are cheaper than public transport systems. This is why people buy cars and travel mostly by road.
Cars are extremely cheap here..even at the exchange rate of 20:1. But insurance is expensive..as much as the cost of the car and very difficult, as only a designated driver can drive..you pay more for each driver you allow. Also ALL cars have to be insured, taxed (4x as much as SA) and have an annual checkup (roadworthy certificate).
British drivers are very law abiding because any fines appear on your licence, which can be taken away and your insurance also goes up for each fine you get. Money talks. Drunk driving is a no-no. The problem is that a catch 22 situation arises where if you own the car, no one can ever drive you home after a binge or even 2 drinks max. because they are not insured to drive your car. So you have to take a taxi home and leave your car.
This is a car I bought, a toyota starlight..I liked the name, liked the price, but boy was it a hassle to insure.
Lets not talk about taxis, who charge whatever they want. Not like our wonderful taxi drivers who always charge the set rate no matter where you go. No wonder uber has a market.(although I took an uber taxi in London and paid through my nose..R300 to go 10 km.!) its just so unregulated to be every tourists nightmare.